Jay McShann plays his original composition on Riverwalk Jazz, Sunday, February 20th at 11:00 am on Jazz 89.5!
"Originals By Originals," is a Riverwalk Jazz program with a collection of original jazz compositions, composed and performed by special guests, trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Benny Carter, and pianist Jay McShann.
James Columbus "Jay" McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, January 12, 1916. He taught himself piano as a child, despite his parents' disapproval of his interest in music. He began his professional career in 1931, playing with Don Byas. He studied at the Tuskegee Institute, one of the leading black educational institutions in the United States. Jay performed around Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1935 to 1936.
In 1936, Jay moved to Kansas City, Missouri and played at the Monroe Inn on Independence Avenue. The following year he formed a sextet and began a residence at Martin's on the Plaza. In late 1939, Jay assembled a big band and played at the Century Room and Fairyland Park.
The Jay McShann Orchestra toured extensively and recorded for the Decca label in 1941. The band's most popular recording was a blues titled "Confessin' the Blues," but the band performed and recorded many modern compositions which bridged traditional Kansas City jazz and bebop.
This musically progressive band, whose oldest member was twenty-five, included Gus Johnson, Gene Ramey and the young Charlie Parker. Their recording of "Hootie Blues" was the first recording to document Parker's emerging genius. The hand had its debut in New York at the Savoy Ballroom in 1942 to enthusiastic reviews.
Jay served in the armed forces from 1943 to 1944. After his discharge he re-formed his big band and worked in New York and California. In the late Forties, Jay led a small combo that featured vocalist, Jimmy Witherspoon. During this period, he recorded for the Aladdin and Mercury labels.
Jay returned to Kansas City in 1950, studied at the Conservatory of Music, and toured regionally with his trio and small groups. From 1969 to the present, Jay has toured extensively, appearing at music festivals worldwide. He has also recorded critically-acclaimed records for the Capitol, Atlantic, Sonet, Black and Blue, and Sackville labels.
Jay was elected to the Kansas City Hall of Fame in 1971 and March 3, 1979 was declared "Jay McShann Day" in Missouri by a proclamation from the Governor's Office. He has received numerous- other awards, including the Jazz Oral History Award from the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, the 1982 Jazz Master Award from the Afro-American Museum in Philadelphia, the Kansas City Jazz Heritage Award, and the Jazz Era Pioneer award from the National Association of Jazz Educators. He has conducted workshops at many colleges and universities, including those in Lincoln (Nebraska), Bella Vista (Arkansas), Oklahoma City, New York University, Manhattan (Kansas), and the University of Missouri in Kansas City.
Jay was the subject of a documentary film Hootie Blues (1978), and he is also showcased in the film, Last of the Blues Devils. Jay is recognized for his blues and boogie woogie-influenced percussive piano style, but he is a master of all jazz piano styles. He continues to tour and expand the tradition of Kansas City jazz which he helped create.